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Shrine of Lies

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And to think, he had once thought five days of her absence too long. It had now been two weeks.

He was disheartened when he had learned of her departure from Kadara the very morning after her late night visit. The Tempest has departed.  The report had read. And like that she was gone, and the reports had stopped. She was no longer under The Charlatan’s watchful eye. And for the first time since his initial vie for control over the planet, he thought about officially expanding The Charlatan’s influence beyond Kadara’s borders.

“You like her,” Keema said, after he had told her about his plans. A small smile played on her cerulean face.

“This has nothing to do with her, Keema,” he replied, rising from his seat. Didn’t it though? Wasn’t her absence the reason why having eyes on all human settlements suddenly became a priority. He headed over to his terminal, ready to check it for the twelfth time that morning.

“Of course it does!” Keema replied, undeterred. “She’s left and now you have no way of keeping tabs on her. Save via the normal news articles available to all, and they lack so much detail, don’t they?”

Reyes’s gaze cut to her.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” she said, waving a webbed hand at him.  “Of course I know!”

Reyes grunted in response not pleased with where this conversation was heading.

No New Messages.

He sighed, and began pacing the room.

“Even on Sloane you’ve never kept such meticulous tabs.” She ran a large finger around the rim of her glass, a knowing look on her face. “But she isn’t as pretty to watch, I suppose.”

She certainly wasn’t, but that was beyond the point.

“I never had to,” he admitted. “Sloane isn’t capable of taking a shit without announcing it to the whole damn port. That woman loves attention. Perhaps even more than you do, Keema.”

Keema shrugged, unbothered.

“I have to say, I do look forward to meeting this extraordinary woman who settles human colonies in an unknown galaxy, battles the Kett, and is capable of keeping Reyes Vidal’s interest for more than a week after sleeping with him.”

“Nothing has happened.” He grumbled, shoving his hands into his pockets. He hadn’t been this tense since right after the rebellion, his first night on Kadara. He shook his head not wanting to think of that now. What was going on with him? He leaned his back against the wall too anxious to sit.

“What was that?”

“Nothing has happened between us.” He repeated louder, the words sounding foreign to his ears.

Keema’s eyes widened, and she let out a loud, obnoxious cackle. “My, my! That explains so much!”

He growled from his place against the wall. “Yes, Keema laugh it up.” He was being petulant, he could feel it. He was brooding like a child denied an anticipated piece of candy.

“Darling, you’re pouting! It’s adorable!” She laughed again. “You have a gaggle of women swooning over you at any one time. All of whom would be more than happy to service you. Just pick one!” She surveyed him from her seat. “Sexually frustrated is not a good look for you. You’re just plain... unpleasant.”

He wasn’t sure how often Keema believed he got laid, but he was sure she was grossly overestimating it. He worked. Yes, he flirted, but he worked. Either way, he didn’t want to be serviced. In truth, he wasn’t sure what he wanted anymore.

Her. He wanted Lola.

He pushed himself off the wall, ready to be done with this conversation.

Keema was one of the very few he trusted, one of the very few that knew his identity. She was also one of even fewer whom he considered a friend, even so her constant need to meddle aggravated him to no end. Though, perhaps he should have taken her unsolicited advice on Zia…

Mierda. I still have to deal with her. He thought running a hand through his hair.

“Getting eyes on The Nexus would make me more pleasant,” he said walking toward Keema. He meant it, it would certainly ease some of this incessant tension.

Maybe it was because of her. He just wanted to make sure she was ok, breathing . Still, this was something he should’ve done long ago. “We need people working for The Charlatan on other planets.”

Sure, he had The Nexus’ system hacked on a regular basis. He was able get camera footage, and files delivered straight to his terminal, but it was a tedious, cumbersome process. Having someone present to actually hear what was going on and see it in person..,well, the closer to the source the better.

“You just want eyes on her again. You want to know if she is cozying up to that Liam character.”

“This isn’t about her, Keema.” Reyes lied, his frustration mounting. And Kosta was the last man he had to worry about. Reyes was sure of it.

“Yes, Yes,” She said, waving a hand at him dismissively. “ Information is power ,” she said, repeating his earlier words. “Be that as it may, it would take time for The Collective to find people trust worthy enough to be our eyes on the other planets.” She paused and removed a cigar from his cigar box. “And you want men stationed on The Nexus? Impossible .” Keema scoffed, lighting her cigar.

Reyes closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Impossible . Impossible is what Sloane has accomplished, what he has accomplished. This. This was not impossible. He could just do it all himself, but he had other pressing matters, he needed Keema to handle The Nexus.

“Keema, darling,” he began, making sure to keep his voice even and pleasant, even with his rising tensions. He re-took his spot beside her and shifted back onto the leather seat, the picture of calm and control. “All we do is the impossible.”

Reyes had learned long ago that women like Keema responded much better and swifter to honeyed words than direct commands, and their friendship was the only reason he took the time to humor her.

She took a drag of her cigar and considered his words. He watched as Keema relaxed and mimicked his body language. She exhaled a billow of smoke into his small private room. “We do, don’t we?” She looked at him. “Do the impossible.”

Reyes smiled. “Indeed, we do.”

She took another drag and nodded slowly. “Alright. I suppose I could see what I can do. Actually, now that I think about it, I did hear that the Angara were now being welcomed onto the Nexus. Not all, but a few, and some humans on Aya, like some odd species exchange program. Perhaps, with the help of Evfra, we could see that one of ours were among the chosen few.” She paused taking another drag of her cigar, looking into the distance, still in thought. “It’d have to be a double agent. Someone that is working for Evfra and, unbeknownst to Evfra, have that someone also working for us. Make it seem like it was his idea to get a resistance member into The Nexus.” She put out her cigar seemingly satisfied. “Yes, yes, that could work.”

Reyes took a swig of his drink, satisfied with her response. There was still other matters that needed to be attended to. There always would be, but progress was being made. He moved his neck from side to side, stretching the muscles that laid there. He had to find a way to relieve some of this tension. His eyes flitted down to his omni tool, and he fought the urge to check it once more.

“But it will still take time.” She said, swatting at his arm. “And, please, don’t think my acquiescing has anything to do with your sweet talking.”

“Never even crossed my mind,” he lied.

“And as far as having agents of The Collective on the other human occupied planets…that will take me some time just to look into. Most of those planets don’t even harbor Angara-”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Reyes said, “I’ll activate the sleeper cells I have stationed there.”

Keema’s stunned face amused him to no end.

“Sleeper cells? Why am I just hearing about this?”

“You mean, I never told you?” He asked feigning innocence. “Hmm, must have slipped my mind.”

Keema rose from her seat, signaling the ending of their little meeting.

“You’re a deplorable human being, you know that?”

“And you love it.” He responded with a wink.

Keema rolled her eyes.

He checked again, No New Messages .

“Skut! Just message her already!” She yelled over her shoulder as she exited his room. “Humans and their stupid games. Such a monumental waste of time.”

His omni tool beeped.

New Message:

Pathfinder was being held on The Nexus for a disciplinary meeting. Camera footage attached.  

Reyes wasted no time and tapped on it.

__________________________________________________________________

 

Lola was an invaluable asset to The Initiative.  She had proven herself capable despite all the doubt that had initially surrounded the inheritance of her father’s title, and though her methods were questionable at best, she had never once failed to deliver results.

But most importantly she was currently the Initiative’s only Pathfinder, and the only one with an A.I. so deeply interwoven into her that there was currently no explicable way to seperate the two.

So, while Tann had quickly learned that direct order or not, she would not outright yield to his command, he had found ways to sway her, to temper her, because the one thing The Initiative couldn’t stand to lose right now was their hold on their only Pathfinder.

So, at the disciplinary meeting held to discuss her ‘erratic and increasingly dangerous behavior’, Tann took the opportunity to gently remind her that anyone labeled a threat to The Initiative has been, and would continued to be, exiled. Rogue Pathfinders most definitely fell into that category.

“A Pathfinder not acting in the best interest of The Initiative is one who has gone rogue. A Pathfinder gone rogue is one whom would quickly find themselves to be an exiled civilian, and exiled civilians are not allowed back on Initiative owned ships. Such as the one your brother is currently resting on, in a coma.”

It was a threat. Clear and simple. She was to fall in line or be permanently separated from her only living relative. Lola’s blood boiled.

They claimed her behavior had been on a decline, and that the latest “stunt” pulled on Kadara was the last straw.

“You’ve punched the leader of The Angaran Resistance in the face.”

“Trust me, he deserved it,” she countered, completely unbothered by the board’s disapproval. It was true, that man was an ass.

“You have an unauthorized Krogan as a member of your crew.”

“I also have an ‘unauthorized’ Asari, and Angaran male on my ship but you seem unbothered by the knowledge of those two. Could it be because they are from a race you approve of?”

Tann rightfully received a dirty look from Kesh, prompting him, for once, to shut his mouth.

He cleared his throat before continuing. “You’re illegally altering official documents sent to us from the people of Angara -”

“Hey, if you want to read about how they think your obtusely large eyes are gross, and the fact that they think your leadership is weak, be my guest. I will cease overlooking it before sending them to you.”

Tann’s mouth opened and closed repeatedly, before he finally gave into his frustration. “Must you constantly be so difficult! Your juvenile antics are constantly putting The Initiative and all involved in danger!”

“Juvenile!” Lola scoffed, offended.

“You snuck off your ship,” Addison spoke up. “Unsupervised, and unarmed, while on duty, to one of the most dangerous areas of Kadara -”

“Well, when you say it like that -”

“I’m not done.” Addison said. Lola narrowed her eyes at Addison, but kept silent. “Why have SAM erase all record of your time there?” Addison rested her elbows on the table she sat at, clasping her hands, she awaited Lola’s answer.

Lola didn’t respond, not wanting to implicate herself with a poorly drawn out lie.

In the end, Addison, Kesh, and Tann couldn’t come to an agreement on what to do with her and her “poor behavior”, so, Tann, being the ever vigilant leader he was, had the last say: “Go to Aya, apologize to Evfra, and fix the vault there. Then you can proceed with your dealings on Kadara.”

“SAM,” Addison spoke up, “Is The Pathfinder’s pursuit of viability on Aya worth our time?”

SAM, please, Lola mentally screamed at him.

There was a long moment of silence before SAM spoke up.

“Yes, I believe Ryder has a high chance of succeeding on Kadara, and that it would, indeed, be worth the time it would take to make it viable.”

 


 

Lola immediately returned to The Tempest.

She could tell that her crew had been waiting for her return, wondering about what had occured. They stood scattered about the deck, in uniform, at attention, ready for any order, but she had no interest in divulging.

“Head to Aya.”

She then headed to her room, where she proceeded to scream madly into her pillow.


 

 

Lola spent most of the trip to Aya holed up in her quarters. Partially because she was too embarrassed to face her teammates, but also because she was too pissed. Gil and Peebee were the only two not on her shit list, but they were wise enough to know she needed some space.

So, when SAM had announced to her she had an incoming message, she was more than ready to ignore it, until he said who it was from.

 

Naughty Lolita. I hear you were called in for a scolding after your night of drunken debauchery.

-Reyes

 

Lola gaped at the message at her terminal, unable to believe it was really him. She could hear the purr in his voice with every word.  She brought her finger to her mouth, carefully considering how to reply.

 

how did you get my private terminal address??

scolded?  ha, that’s putting it lightly, more like chewed out. but, that’s what I get for not saying no to you. it’s entirely all your fault.

how did you know about my meeting?

- L

 

I think your friends Peebee and Gil like me.

Which is more than I can say about Kosta and the Krogan.

Private terminal, you say? They must really like me.

How about you, Lolita, would you like me to stop? Say the word.

My fault? You’re the one who showed up drunk, half naked, and intent on seducing me.

I’m entirely innocent.

-R

 

Lola laughed, she could  absolutely feel him winking from the other side. Innocent? That bastard.

 

Innocent? Mr. Vidal, I don’t think you’ve been innocent a single day since your birth.

The Krogan? Drak? Aw, no he’s all bark and ...well, yea, and bite. Can’t even lie, he fucks people up. Just don’t make him angry. Did he say something to you? Did Liam?

I think Liam’s more upset at me more than anything. I don’t think he can handle the idea that there is real person behind the symbol of The Pathfinder, an imperfect one at that. Ignore him. He’ll get over it.

As for me, I believe you have information that could aid me with settling Kadara, and I’d like us to be able to work together. I give you what you need, you give me what I need. We’ll have a perfectly symbiotic work relationship. - That’s the official response.

-L

 

There was pause in his response. Lola found herself holding her breath. You’re a stupid girl, Lola Ryder. A stupid, stupid girl. You absolutely deserve all the trouble you find yourself in.

 

And, the unofficial?

-R

 

Lola exhaled. She was stupid, yes, but she just couldn’t let him go completely, not yet, but she also couldn’t allow things to continue the way they were.

 

Seems I’m one of the many women who are unable to say no to you.

So, you need to be on your best behavior, Mr. Vidal, because I can’t afford to get into trouble again, and since you don’t have all of Kadara bowing to you, I need to stay alert while I’m there.

-L

 

My best behavior, understood.

When you’re back on Kadara come visit me.

So, I can start giving you what you need.

But I’ll warn you, it’s a lot to take in, not many could manage.

-R

 

Lola sucked in her breath. Goddess, she’d need to get a leash for this man.

Then again, he’d probably like it.

 

Reyes. No.

-L

 

Your words, Lolita.  

What did you think I meant sex?  As in you and me? Like, in my bed, tangled up in my sheets as I kiss every inch of you? Or maybe you like shower sex, the water running down your body as I grind against you? No, you want to bent over a table while I grab you from behind. Or maybe you’re thinking of me taking you up against the wall? 

Whatever you thought, the answer is no. I’m clearly speaking about information. Dios, get your head out of the gutter, we have to work together.

-R

 

 Lola groaned out loud, turned on beyond belief.  She should’ve known he wouldn’t make this easy. She resisted the strong urge to touch herself to his words, if only because that was exactly what he wanted.

 

But tell me, do you think of sex often when you think of me?

-R

She needed to end this conversation immediately.

 

Goodnight, Reyes.

-L

 

Dream of me, Lolita.

-R

 

Oh , she would, she most certainly would.

___________________________________________________________________________

 

Over the next week Reyes spent all his free time messaging her. He made sure to wish her a good morning and a good night, everyday without fail. He couldn’t have her forgetting about him, but, most of all, he enjoyed constantly being at the forefront of her mind.

 

How long now?

-R

 

A day. I’ll be there in a day.

-L

 

Good.

-R

 

“Mr. Vidal, Keema is here to see you.”

“Let her in,” he called, re-reading the messages Lola had sent him.

 

On Aya. Had punched Evfra. Being forced to apologize. Make me smile?

-L

 

Reyes remembered how hard he had laughed at that, unable to imagine such a tiny thing landing blows on someone as large as Evfra. He loved that, her fire. He had responded by sending her the dirtiest joke he knew.

“Reyes, really, having to travel to Kadara’s slums just to see you is a little too much.” Keema said upon entering his room. “I honestly do not understand the appeal.  How can you stand it?” She asked taking a seat across from him.

He smiled, not taking his attention off his omni-tool. Keema’s air of superiority always amused him.

“It reminds me of home,” he shrugged.

“Leave it to a human to travel 600 years only to return to the same environment they left.”

“Keema..” He urged gently.

“Yes, fine. The Human Pathfinder.” She began.

“Lola Ryder” He injected. She was so much more than just The Human Pathfinder.

“Yes, Lola Ryder.” She paused. He could feel her eyeing him from across the table. He sighed. He didn’t even need to look at her to know what she was here to really talk about.

“Say what you came to say, Keema,” he responded, finally closing his omni-tool’s screen.

She sidled closer to him.

“You like her.” She said, a small smile on her face.

Reyes didn’t respond, instead he took a drink of his whiskey.

“We’ve already spoken about this, Keema.”

“You’ve been messaging her.”

Reyes kept his face neutral. “And what makes you say that?”

“That.” She said pointing a webbed finger at his face. “This.” She motioned toward his body.

He held his poker face. Keema sighed.

“You’ve been glued to the damn thing for the last week,” she said, meaning his omni-tool. “And I know it isn’t all work. You never smile, truly smile, while working. You’re speaking to her, you don’t have to admit it, but you are.”

“Is that what you came all the down here to discuss?” 

“Yes and no. I’m here about another female of yours.”

Reyes sat up in his seat. “Zia,” he said knowingly.

“Zia,” Keema nodded. “She’s causing us trouble. Stealing our goods, underselling us to our competitors.” Keema crossed her legs. “Did I not warn you about her, was I not correct?”

“You were, indeed,” Reyes sighed. He was completely exhausted by all the trouble one woman could cause. Like a damn gnat, he thought.

“Now you have to deal with her. And do it before her little scheming starts to take a noticeable chunk of our income.”

Reyes rolled his neck, just thinking about being in the same room as Zia caused him to tense up. He wondered what he had ever seen in her. Then again, he wasn’t sure he saw anything pass her ass.

“Perhaps, you should ask our little Pathfinder for help?”

“Lola?” He shook his head, “Absolutely not, out of the question.” He had a strict rule about mixing past and present interests. It was simple really: he kept them the hell away from each other.

“Reyes, Zia just managed to hijack a large shipment of ammo and weapons that we had been waiting on for months.” Keema picked at invisible lint on her clothing. “She isn’t working alone. She isn’t that clever. You have no choice. The Pathfinder may be your Lolita, but to everyone else she is still The Pathfinder. And that A.I of hers could have this wrapped up much quicker than we could alone.”

Reyes looked at his omni-tool, he had a slew of Collection issues to deal with, a queue that seemed infinite.

“Alright.” he acquiesced, there was no reason for Lola to know that Zia was his ex. “Alright,” he repeated. “I’ll ask her.”